The Roller Bench

The roller bench near the main entrance was made by John Monk.

John Monk (R) with Peter Willson. 

John was interviewed for a newsletter in 2006

Not everyone who walks on Bearsted Woodland Trust land will be aware of the enormous amount of work that was done in the early days after the land was bought by the Ashness family for the village. The whole project could never have happened without very many contributors, but this newletter tells the story of someone who, having helped from the beginning, continues quietly, regularly, and expertly to work at whatever needs to be done. That man is BWT's first Honorary Life Member, John Monk.

Friends of the Trust may not know John because he lives in Detling. One of seven children of Horace George Monk, he was born and went to school in Detling, pumped the organ in the Church by hand, and joined the family fencing business in 1952. When his father retired in 1965 he carried on with his elder brother, until Jim died aged only 59 in 1991. In 1947 the Monk yard had been forced to move from 81 Hockers Lane to 108 Hockers Lane, because villagers complained of the noise of the petrol driven saw bench. Nobody guessed then that by the 21st century the village would be disturbed by much greater noise from the M20 and Eurostar! Driven-spar chestnut fencing with wood from a local estate in Barming was the mainstay of the work, and as well as smaller jobs they had a large contract to fence new council estates amounting to 850 homes in Chatham, Langley and Sutton Valence.

John and his wife Olive are members of Bearsted and Thurnham Bowling Club. In 2003 they joined a team of about 25 bowlers who helped at one of the first work days on the newly acquired BWT land. Since that day John has been more and more involved with the Trust, working with Richard Ashness and others, and on his own, staking, fencing, mulching, removing rubbish and clearing brambles. Peter Willson's estimate of the total time John has spent helping the trust so far is well over 1,000 hours. Which is an energetic sort of retirement, and why, in September 2005, the Committee gratefully elected him Honorary Life Member.

John has worked particularly hard at eradicating brambles. He says that the thorns, even whipping across his face as he hacks at them with his scythe, cannot deter a man who has had close encounters with uncoiling tensioned barbed wire! Brambles, he adds, are shallow-rooting, and will not sprout again if you dig all the roots out. He has also masterminded some enormous bonfires, one of which began as a pile thirty feet high. It included stumps of the trees so heinously felled by Wards, and burned for nearly a week. The secret of a good bonfire is to keep it tidy as it burns, and the huge smouldering stumps had to be rolled into the heart of the fire after the brushwood had burnt out.

The bench near the main entrance made cleverly out of a roller is one of John's projects, and another was the restoration of a kissing gate across the path near the lake. His bright blue van has made countless trips to Tovil (six in one busy week) with BWT rubbish. If you spot the van and find him working when you pass on a walk, he may have time to stop and chat, but please don't shout. John has very uncomfortable hyper-sensitive hearing caused by a serious injury when a lorry hit his van in Willington Street in 1992. He is hoping that some anti-noise hearing aids will soon make life easier, but until they arrive he likes his surroundings to be peaceful!

John's restored kissing gate above the lake.